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Pell Contra Mundum book review: Like Pell himself, book is not for the faint-hearted

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Cardinal Pell relaxes in the grounds of the Good Shepherd Seminary in Sydney after being pronounced innocent by the High Court of Australia and released from prison.

Pell Contra Mundum (Pell Against the World) by Fr Robert Sirico serves as a great summary of the legacy of the final years of our departed cardinal’s life.

This short, 50-page collection of essays, articles, and a homily serves as a fantastic entry point for Australians who may be uninitiated in Cardinal George Pell’s international standing.

As Aussies, we often conflate the cardinal with his domestic achievements and his unjust imprisonment by the Victorian justice system.

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This book works to expand upon the cardinal’s domestic reputation to show he was truly a universal churchman.

By interspersing Pell’s articles and speeches with Australian, American, and an Indian perspective, the reader is given a holistic view of his legacy.

The greatest praise that can be given to Fr Sirico’s book is its brevity. The text is printed in English, Italian, French and Spanish, obviously aiming at an international readership. The English text is only 50 pages, and can be easily read in a single sitting.

The international perspectives on the cardinal’s life are carefully balanced in these short pages. The reader is generously invited to see him as a cardinal with a sportsman’s heart: forthright, courageous, yet “immense fun,” as well-known journalist George Weigel puts it.

Pell Contra Mundum by Connor Court. Cover: Supplied
Pell Contra Mundum by Connor Court. Cover: Supplied

It truly feels like an invitation into these men’s lives to reminisce over their dear friend and the hard yards he put in to make the church a better place.

For those hoping to avoid church politics, this is certainly not the book for you.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Mr Weigel, Fr Sirico and the cardinal’s former director of the secretariat for the economy, Danny Casey, all go into great detail over the enemies he made in Australia and Rome, and the efforts he made to clean up Vatican finances.

His thoughts on synodality are laid bare, as are his remarks on the state of the world at present. Such bluntness is welcome, yet the politically squeamish among us should be warned.

Cardinal Pell wasn’t a fan of deathbed proclamations of sainthood; one wonders how his premature canonisation by Cardinal Gracias and Fr Sirico would have been received.

Cardinal Gracias’ parallels between Cardinal Pell and St John Henry Newman are worthy of a study in their own right, especially the similarities in their episcopal mottos, but perhaps the cardinal would not have appreciated being elevated to such illustrious company so quickly.

However, it is clear that their praise comes from a place of genuine love for a friend lost too soon.

The selection of works that Fr Sirico has compiled is stellar and balanced well by some of Cardinal Pell’s own words, vindicating many of their praises.

While the collection is not for the faint-hearted, neither was Cardinal Pell, making this book a true reflection of his forthright courage.

And by avoiding any sense of pity for his friend, Fr Sirico cherishes the hope that this larger-than-life figure will inspire Catholics to “be not afraid” in standing against the world.

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